Auntie, Auntie, I Over

March 2, 2015

The time had come for the annual game of “Auntie, Auntie, I Over” but the acoustics are such around our house that players routinely shout themselves hoarse, so this time we resolved to put our cell phones to good use.

The game reached a successful conclusion on its fourth round of play after Bet gave me a nosebleed in the second, but not in the way one might expect.

This traditional sport was generally staged over the ridge-cap of a one-room country school with the whole cohort involved in a great game of catch and tag. Only three participants were available at our house today, and we put the dog inside for fear of tangled lines, but it turned out it was Bet who put her foot on the rope she was attempting to throw.

You see the child’s game has evolved into a mixed-skills team effort to position a heating strip over the edge of the roof on our house in order to burn a trough down through a huge accumulation of ice before a thaw turned it into a dam capable of flooding interior walls.

The brick house generously dumps almost half of its snow onto the end of the stone house, itself with a complex roofline, so by this time of year there’s quite a bit of ice up there.

My dad’s approach was to risk life and limb on a ladder with an axe, the occasion of many repairs to that section of roof over the years. Dad wasn’t as steady with the axe as he pretended to be. Over a generation I watched this annual procedure and decided to do the thing from the ground.

I originally started this game by tying to the line of my fishing rod a substantial iron nut from one of the tin cans full of them in the garage. Then I lobbed a tall cast over the house, taking care to miss the chimney, upright sewer pipe, and three dormers on the south side. At the time there were no trees to obstruct the cast. Someone would tie a sturdy mason’s cord to the fishing line for strength, and I would reel it in while spotters screamed instructions back and forth. For some reason you can’t hear over or around our house. The mason’s cord would pull back over the ridgecap a ¼” nylon rope with the 10’ heating strip firmly taped to it.

These hardware-store strips have thermostats to keep exposed pipes from freezing, but I have found they’re pretty good at melting their way through ice dams, as well. I securely tape a long extension cord to the heating strip temporarily anchored to the railing on the verandah on the back side of the house by the 1/4″ yellow rope. Once the tape and attached power cord are moved to the optimum position and final adjustments to the anchor rope are complete, it’s good for another spring thaw, shutting itself off as the temperature rises. Horrific icicles forming on the extension cord haven’t seemed to hinder the system’s operation.

This cockamamie arrangement has gone well for quite a few years. For the last two mild winters it hasn’t been needed. In the interim the rear stairs off the deck have become unusable from age, and what used to be a tiny maple tree has had a growth spurt, both events complicating the procedure somewhat.

For the last ten years we must have been on an incredible run of beginner’s luck, because today everything went wrong.

The vanquisher of countless bass over many years (and last summer’s sockeye salmon), my trusty Shimano Calcutta 250 reel wouldn’t retrieve when I dug it out of the boat’s rod locker. I needed its sturdy 30 lb test line for this exercise, but decided to try its lighter locker-mate, a Calcutta 150 with 20 lb test.

My first cast was crisp and accurate. Unfortunately I had overshot with the hook/bolt/artificial worm combination and the trinket ended up dangling 4’ off the ground at the foot of a 30’ maple tree which has grown up beside the deck over the years.

I had bought a reel of mason’s cord at Princess Auto on impulse some months before. In a half-hour or so I had located it on my bench and pressed it into service. I envisaged Bet allowing the neat spool with its swivel handle to backlash when I pulled the cord through the foliage of the tree from the other side of the house, so I asked her to walk down the hill on a snowmobile trail until about sixty feet of line had unraveled.

This, of course, was so interesting to the dog that she flat-out refused to come into the house with me and had to be dragged in by leash. Taffy is definitely Bet’s dog.

So I doubled it around to the front of the house and started to crank the reel. But the nut/fish-hook/artificial worm caught on a fork in the maple tree and the line broke. So much for 20 lb. test for this job.

Back to the house while I repaired the heavier reel, then another Auntie, Auntie, over the roof, and the game began anew. This time the new weight landed on the deck, so we needed the mason’s cord up there, ten feet above where it was on a snowmobile track about thirty feet from the house. I asked Bet to throw it up to me and I’d catch it.

First try she threw short. I should specify that Bet makes a throw like this first by removing her mitts, then her trapper hat, adjusts her hair out of her eyes, then gingerly approaches the edge of the snowmobile track until she falls into the knee-deep snow, then fixes her face in a rage of concentration, pivots her entire being, and launches a sidearm throw.

The anticipation gets pretty funny. On the second throw when she discovered that she had been standing on a loop of the line, I nearly burst, but I couldn’t show any mirth because I needed her to get the line to the deck.

Next throw was perfect but I had gloves on and missed the weight, and then allowed the line to slide off my dumb fingers while I gazed at the errant spool. On went the hat and mitts. In came the line. Bet prepared again.

When her hat came off this time I could see the steam rising. She threw. I missed again.

I couldn’t hold back any longer. Sagging helplessly over the rickety railing, I burst out laughing. Joyful at the release of tension, my nose began to spurt blood as well.

This time Bet forgot all about hat and mitts. She gathered up the string and the spool and threw the thing over the railing with a heave of perfect ferocity, turned and stamped up the trail to the front of the house. I tied the string to the heavier line and Bet began to wind. After a few minutes she stuck her head out the back door to see if she should wind it any more. Nothing had moved. The reel was misbehaving again, refusing to engage the spool.

A few repairs and it got back to work. I reeled and Bet directed the line up, over the roof, and down to my waiting yellow ¼” rope. I tied on and traded places with Bet, warning her not to let the heating strip make it out of reach up the side of the house.

Things were going very well until the rope/cord joint broke right at the edge of the dormer, ten feet from my grasp. Crappy cheap cord. Why didn’t I buy brand name cord instead of junk?

Back to the drawing board. Repeated everything. This time we pulled the cord from the front of the house to the back to avoid the dormer trap. It worked fine except the cord hung up on a piece of ice on the north side. I’d had enough bad luck today, so I tied off the cord, stomped through the house, grabbed the rope from the side and gave it a judicious tug. The ice protrusion broke with a sound rather like a front tooth snapping off, leaving the rig free to continue its journey up the roof.

We actually used the cell phones to pull the heating cable the last couple of feet into position.

“Are you there?”


“Can you hear me? WHOA!

“You’d better come and look at this.”

The cable was in place. I taped the extension cord to it, plugged it in, and concluded our game of “Auntie Auntie I Over.”

Next year I hope to have a roof over a new deck. That should make the game even more satisfyingly complex.

UPDATE, 16 March, 2015

The tape did its job perfectly, consuming 10.6 KWH* in the process of de-icing our roof for another year.

*I found this cool little meter online.


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